Category Archives: Queens History

The International Express: The Personality of the 7 Train

The New York subway system has been a frightening place recently — derailments, stalled trains underground, agonizing delays.

Most of these interruptions are experienced in a unique way, a group of strangers coping with a  situation outside their control. After a few minutes of waiting, people get impatient, pace the train, grumble silently, turn up the volumes on their listening devices. Their spheres of comfort may change, allowing them to speak to a fellow passenger in a sign of solidarity.

Now take those regular mass-transit routines and observe them on the most unusual train in all of New York  City (if not the world) — the 7 train which travels from the Hudson Yards to Flushing, passing through a wide variety of ethnic neighborhoods. It’s affectionately called the International Express.

INTERNATIONAL EXPRESS
New Yorkers on the 7 Train
By Stéphane Tonnelat and William Kornblum
Columbia University Press

In International Express: New Yorkers on the 7 Train, two ethnographers Stéphane Tonnelat and William Kornblum study closely the daily routines of subway riders along this line, representatives from a dozen unique communities, some blissfully lost in their own worlds, others suppressing their own racial prejudices, creating a fascinating space of temporary urban cohabitation.

Flickr/Tarek Awad

As the two authors observe, there really is no experience on earth like riding the subway.

Their observations of human behavior can be read to include all experiences upon the New York subway, but the 7 train provides a very unique mix of languages and cultures, intensifying and sometimes complicating regular daily routines.

Riders in rich ethnic communities of one type may only interact with those of other communities while riding the subway. On the 7, this means sharing a space with people of many ethnic backgrounds at once.  “Riders are fascinated by the diversity they experience and take pride in learning in learning to read cues regarding the identities of strangers on the trains.”

Flickr/Doug Letterman

In a very blunt but incisive way, the authors identify various aspects of New York that often hard to quantify. “[A]fter paying the fare, we all have an equal right to be on the subway, to be in the city dressed however we please, and to be ready to defend ourselves against stereotyping and bigotry.”

And yet, as observed in interviews with countless 7-train riders, the train becomes a sort-of safe space as well, where individuality is not only allowed but even supported, as it allows every rider to express themselves personally within basic norms of decency. Not that riders don’t personally harbor hostile or racist views at times; but mostly, perhaps as preservation of the 7 train’s neutral space, they keep these thoughts to themselves.

The authors also explore the particular power of the 7 train itself in transforming Queens into the most diverse and second-most populous borough, allowing neighborhoods of specific ethnic character to thrive, even at moments in New York City history where the rest of the city stagnated.

The success of neighborhoods like Jackson Heights and Flushing ultimately depend on the train. The most illuminating sections of International Express seem almost like dire warnings in light of 2017’s recent mass-transit disasters.

Or, as the authors put it, “Despite overcrowding, construction and mechanical delays, sweltering platforms in the summer, and endlessly broken escalators, the physically and socially competent urbanite chooses the subway. Will that always be the case?”

The breezy story of Ozone Park, Queens: “the Harlem of Brooklyn”

Ozone Park, a quiet residential Queens neighborhood near Woodhaven, is one of those places created by real estate developers in the 1880s. It happens to have one of the best neighborhood names in all of New York City. So where did it come from?

Ozone is a gas that exists as part of the Earth’s atmosphere and, more dangerously, as a component of ground-level pollutants like smog and industrial waste. By all accounts, the word should sit nowhere near the word ‘Park’ where the foul-smelling gas would kill everything.

OzonePark

But when ozone gas was first identified in 1840, its harmful effects were not widely understood. It was associated with fresh air, filled with refreshing recuperative properties.  One dictionary in particular describes ozone as “clean bracing air as found at the sea side.” By the 1860s and 70s, beach resorts and hotels were advertising their properties are paradises full of tonic air with all the ozone you could want!

Below: This cigarette card was labeled ‘Ozone is present in the air at the sea-side.” So you have cigarettes and ozone…..

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

 

There was no borough of Queens in the 1860s, only the counties of Kings and Queens sitting near each other on the western end of Long Island. The county of Queens was sparsely populated outside of a few towns further north, including Flushing, Jamaica, Astoria and Newtown (later Elmhurst).

The vast population rise and the improving financial fortunes of the cities of New York and Brooklyn in the 1860s inspired some developers to sweep into under-populated areas with the hopes of developing new communities. It was in the decades following the Civil War that many new Queens communities sprouted up in this way.

In the 1870s, the cooking and houseware manufacturers Florian Grosjean and Charles Lalance built a large factory near the site of the old Union Course racetrack, long since closed. The company town which sprouted up around the factory became the basis for the Woodhaven neighborhood.

In 1876, the factory was destroyed in a devastating fire, so complete in its destruction that Grosjean, upon seeing his life’s work in flames, fainted to the ground.

2
Courtesy Project Woodhaven

 

But Grosjean rebuilt his massive factory just a bit south of the original site, constructing more new cottages for his workers. While the factory is long gone today, its distinctive clock tower can still be seen in the neighborhood today. [You can read more about Grosjean’s contribution to the area here.]

I bring up the origins of Woodhaven because the southern factory opened up new opportunities for some undeveloped land. New employees of Grosjean’s factory would eventually venture into this area needing housing,

In 1880, the Long Island Railroad built a station south of Woodhaven as part of its line from Long Island City to Howard Beach. Two years later, two speculators Benjamin W. Hitchcock and Charles C. Denton bought up most of the plots of land around the station and began marketing the area as a visionary new neighborhood called Ozone Park!

Hitchcock had made his money in the music publishing business, one of several enterprising Manhattan businessmen who looked to the vast undeveloped spaces of Long Island to make money. He coined the name Ozone Park to promote the area’s proximity to fresh tonic ocean air.

Below: Postcard of an Ozone Park filling station circa 1930s

Courtesy Boston Public Library
Courtesy Boston Public Library

Here’s a few examples of advertisements used to lure prospective customers to  the area:

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (7/9/1882):

“A FREE invitation to visit Ozone Park, on the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad, adjoining Woodhaven and Brooklyn, with a view of affording homes to persons of moderate means on easy payments.”

3

From the New York Sun (8/27/1882):

“OWN YOUR HOME at OZONE PARK, And enjoy the pure, life-giving air of the ATLANTIC OCEAN……”

1

From the New York Sun (4/21/1883):

“Save your children! Save your money! Invest and get rich! OZONE PARK is ‘the Harlem of Brooklyn.’ Come and investigate!”

2

 

 

Wait — ‘the Harlem of Brooklyn‘? Ozone Park isn’t even in Brooklyn, although it’s near the modern border of the borough.  In the 1880s Harlem was a thriving and newly developed Jewish and Italian neighborhood, a new rowhouses were being built along the routes of elevated rail lines. This is certainly the comparison the developers had in mind with this particular advertisements.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

By 1884, the developers carved streets to connect the properties.  Far from relaxing and ‘tonic’, the area was a fury of building construction.  Five years later there were at least 600 residents living in Ozone Park, enough to merit its very own post office.

The development of South Ozone Park was bolstered with the construction in 1894 of the Aqueduct Racetrack (pictured below in 1941).  When Idlewild Airport (later JFK Airport) was completed in 1948, anything positively “ozone” about the the air quickly evaporated.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

 

Thank you Project Woodhaven for inspiring this article!

 

 

Ruins of the World’s Fair: The New York State Pavilion, or how Philip Johnson’s futuristic architecture was almost forgotten

A little bit Jetsons, a little bit Gladiator, a little bit P.T Barnum. Photo/Marco Catini

PODCAST The ruins of the New York State Pavilion, highlight of the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, have become a kind of unofficial Statue of Liberty of Queens, greeting people as they head to and from LaGuardia and JFK airports.  Its abandoned saucer-like observation decks and steel arena have inspired generations of New Yorkers who have grown up with this oddity on the horizon.

The Pavilion holds a great many surprises, and its best days may be yet to come.  Designed by modernist icon Philip Johnson, the Pavilion was saved from the fate of many of the venues in the World’s Fair. But it’s only been used sporadically over the past 50 or so years, and the fear of further deterioration is always present.

For the first part of this very special episode of the Bowery Boys, I take you through the pavilion’s presence in the World’s Fair, a kaleidoscopic attraction that extolled the greatness of the state of New York.  In its first year, however, a battle over controversial artwork was waged, pitting Robert Moses and Nelson Rockefeller against the hottest artist of the day — Andy Warhol. Other controversies at the Fair threatened to derail the message behind its slogan ‘Peace Through Understanding’.

In the show’s second half, I head out to record at the Queens Theater — the only part of the New York State Pavilion that’s been rehabilitated — to explore the venue’s ‘lonely years’ with filmmaker Matthew Silva, a co-founder of People For The Pavilion, an organization that’s successfully bringing attention to this weird little treasure.  Matthew gives us the scoop of the pavilion’s later years, culled from some of his interviews in the film Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion.

This is crucial time in the history of this spectacular relic. With public attention at an all time high, we may now be at the right time to re-purpose the Pavilion into a new destination for New Yorkers. What do you think should be done with the New York State Pavilion?

An airplane passes over the park, its shadow captured inside the Pavilion. (Photo by George Garrigues)

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #173: Ruins of the World’s Fair
___________________________________________________________________

And we would like to thank our sponsors:

— Audible, the premier provider of digital audiobooks. Get a FREE audiobook download and 30 day free trial at www.audibletrial.com/boweryboys. Over 150,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle or mp3 player Audible titles play on iPhone, Kindle, Android and more than 500 devices for listening anytime, anywhere.
____________________________________________________________________

Here’s the trailer to Matthew’s film Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion:


Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion – Promo I from Matthew Silva on Vimeo.

Thank you Matthew for helping out with the show this week!  He’s finishing his film.  If you would like to help out, go over to the Modern Ruin GoFundMe page and donate.  You just be helping out the film, but the Pavilion itself.  The film will probably be the first time many people ever hear of the New York State Pavilion.

And for a different (fictional) film take on the Pavilion, try out these appearances from The Wiz, Men In Black and Iron Man 2:

And thank you to commenter Signed D.C. who points out that the venue was featured in an music video by They Might Be Giants who, generally speaking, who a bit obsessed with the World’s Fair. (It pops up in several of their songs, including a lyric to their song “Ana Ng.“) At one point, the lead singer floats over the Texaco map.


____________________________________________________________________

Looking down at the Texaco map of New York state. (Courtesy New York Daily News)

A close up of Long Island, photo taken in 1964.  (Courtesy Flickr/Susan DeMark)

An overhead shot of Philip Johnson’s extraordinary rooftop, a stunning colorful ovoid that projected a rainbow of colors down upon fair-goers.(Courtesy AP)

Theaterama, part of the New York State Pavilion, is today’s Queens Theater.  Johnson commissioned the work of several pop artists to hang along the walls of the pavilion. (Courtesy Bill Cotter/World’s Fair Community)

A view of Theaterama showing the Roy Lichtenstein mural upon its side (Courtesy Jon Buono):

Andy Warhol‘s Ten Wanted Men on the side of Theaterama, with the Tent of Tomorrow in the background.  Although we can almost guarantee that it was not beloved by Robert Moses, it’s believed it was taken down because of Governor Rockefeller.

Robert Moses beams from the sidewalk of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  The mosaic is based on the work of Andy Warhol.

The Federal Pavilion — “the square donut on stilts” — was designed by Charles Luckman, who also designed the current Madison Square Garden.

The photographer Marco Catini has taken some recent images of the Pavilion.  You can find much more of his work here. Thanks Marco for letting me use your work here!

Here are a few of my photos taken on the afternoon of recording.  The New York State Pavilion Paint Project is responsible for keeping the place is festive shape. The candy stripes are similar to the look of the 1964 pavilion.

MY THANKS AND GRATITUDE to the Queens Theatre in The Park for allowing us to record in the cabaret room!  I know we went on and on about the observation desks and the Tent of Tomorrow, but you should really check out a show within the greatly renovated theater.  Coming in December: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol!

Visit the People For The Pavilion website for more information on upcoming events, news and fund-raisers. And a shout-out to the organization’s co-founder Salmaan Khan!

The New York Daily News just yesterday published an article about People For the Pavilion and its co-founder Christian Doran who passed away in February. There’s a fund-raiser tomorrow in his honor. [More info here]

ALSO: I didn’t get to plug this on the show, but historian Christian Kellberg has just released a book of photography of the New York State Pavilion, part of the Images of America series.  Most of the pictures are exclusive to this book including some extraordinary shots of the pavilion construction.

And of course there’s Joseph Tirella‘s terrific book Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America, putting the entire fair within context of the rapidly changing America of the 1960s.

And since I mentioned it on the show, here’s a link for Robert Caro‘s The Power Broker as well!

Robert Moses rejected this terrifying Margaret Keane painting from hanging at the 1964-65 World’s Fair

The World’s Fair of 1964-65 at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was a major American event forward-looking in its intent and, in many ways, backwards in its practice.  In particular, Robert Moses did not care for cheap carnival amusements, nor did he care for music or art that was particular edgy or controversial. Moses’ tastes ruled supreme over the Fair as he held veto power over any works that were in “extreme bad taste or low standard.”

There was no pavilion dedicated to art although several independent partners funded their own art displays.  The New York State Pavilion presented the work of brand-new pop artists; an objectionable piece by Andy Warhol entitled Thirteen Wanted Men was eventually painted over (although it was the governor Nelson Rockefeller who objected in this case).

Moses did eventually throw out one surprising piece of artwork — Tomorrow Forever by Margaret Keane.

The Keane painting was to have been displayed in this building at the fair.**

Keane was known for her bizarre and haunting images of children and animals with large empty eyes.  During the 1960s, her husband Walter Keane claimed to be the creator of her paintings.  It was he who was announced as the painter of this macabre work, chosen in February 1964 to grace the Fair’s Hall of Education.   The venue devoted to the future of schools would feature a scale model of an elementary school from the year 2000, a playground with “futuristic climbing structures,” and from the entrance way, the terrifying painting you see above.

The work by Keane, representing “something which would be symbolic for the aspiration of children,” was not exactly heralded as the pinnacle of artistic expression in 1964.

The New York Times’ art critic John Canaday could barely conceal his disgust at this “grotesque announcement,” adding, “Mr. Keane is the painter who enjoys international cele­bration for grinding out form­ula pictures of wide‐eyed children of such appalling sentimentality that his product has become synonymous among critics with the very definition of tasteless hack work.”   [source]

To be fair, Canaday had only seen a photograph of the painting, which depicts an endless sea of soul-crushing zombie children, rising out of a morose and barren wasteland. “That’s true,” he confessed to a Life Magazine reporter. “It’s normally a principle of mine never to judge just by a photograph, but in this case it didn’t matter.”

Moses seemed to agree with Canaday, demanding the Hall of Education cancel the planned installation before it was even mounted.  Thanks to Canaday’s protest, Moses’ office was inundated with letters from angry intellectuals and aesthetes. “[T]he perpetrators of this art burlesque,” wrote Joseph James Akston, “expose us to veritable scandal sure to incur ridicule and laughter of the whole civilized world with possible exception of Russians.” [source]

Keane, who of course didn’t paint the artwork attributed to him, nonetheless seemed to revel in the critical potshots.  The following year, he issued a press releases from San Francisco and Tahiti, declaring himself “the American Gauguin.”  Canaday would continue to take aim at Keane’s kitschy work.  Imagine how Canaday felt when he discovered that Walter hadn’t even painted the works he so deliciously despised?

Margaret eventually left her husband and sued for rightful ownership of her artwork.

Below: From a Life Magazine profile in August 1965:

NOTE: I’m being a little irreverent in calling the painting “terrifying” as the artist clearly intended the subjects to be starving, sad children.  However, the passage of time has been a little strange to Keane’s legacy.  She is perhaps more beloved than ever — there’s a new Tim Burton film coming out this year — but the flagrant sentimentality of the work has given way to their spectacular kitsch value.

** The Hall of Education picture courtesy the blog Little Owl Ski which has a few other nifty World’s Fair pictures.

 

MYSTERY! “Doctor Busted” and the skeleton of College Point

Above is an illustrated bird’s eye view of College Point, Queens, from a 1917 guidebook “Illustrated Flushing and vicinity.”

As that book goes on to describe, “COLLEGE POINT is essentially a manufacturing town—the industrial center of the Flushing District.  It is an old settlement like Flushing and Whitestone, both of which it immediately adjoins on Flushing Bay, and like both, it is rich in its possession of old trees and old houses. It has many fine modern residences, too; and even the proximity of its scores of factories doesn’t seem to spoil its charm as one of New York City’s pretty home suburbs.”

But for a ‘pretty home suburb’, you never know what you’re going to find as you’re digging up out in your yard.  I found the following disturbing notice in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 7, 1914:

“College Point, LI, October 7 — The police of the College Point station thought they had a first-class mystery on their hands today for a time after John Kanter of 622 North Fourteenth Street [sic] dug up in his yard the skeleton of a man.

Just when the keenest Sherlock Holmeses in the College Point service were beginning to concentrate their minds on the subject, however, it was recalled by an old policeman at the station that the premises had been occupied until his death a few years ago by Dr. Busted whom, the police believe, buried the body after using it for dissecting purposes.”

It’s more likely the doctor’s name was Busteed.  Dr. Busted sounds like a character from a 1980s horror film.

Here’s a proper mystery: Would somebody like to figure out where 622 North 14th Street in College Point, Queens, is today?  Many streets and roads in Queens were renumbered in the 1920s.  I believe the house mentioned in the article above is on today’s 14th Avenue, but there’s also a 14th Road.  And neither of them is numbered in the 600s.

If there was one skeleton in the yard, might there still be others?

Below: A College Point home from the brochure described at top, belonging to a silk manufacturer.  From the brochure:

“As a bit of prophecy, the reader is asked to lay aside this book for ten years and then compare this portrayal of College Point-Flushing conditions as they now exist with those of a decade hence. It is pretty safe to say that the two old mansions, pictures of which are printed with this article—the Stratton and Graham homesteads — that today stand as landmarks on the trolley line between College Point and Flushing will long since have disappeared, and in their places and on their surrounding acre swill have risen many beautiful, modern residences and apartment  houses, and that the meadows some distance away will have been covered with manufacturing plants all th eway from the hills to the waters of Flushing Bay.”

A new film about New York State Pavilion, the space-age ruin from the World’s Fair 1964-65

Many cities have turned the sites of World’s Fairs into public places that have endured through the decades.  Chicago’s Jackson Park and the Midway were greatly upgraded after their use in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  The odd-looking Sunsphere, a highlight of the Knoxville World’s Fair in 1982, is now the city’s most recognizable monument.

Nashville has its Parthenon, San Francisco the Japanese Tea Garden.  And perhaps the most famous souvenir of all — Seattle’s Space Needle. These are treasured and maintained relics of World’s Fairs of yore.

So what’s going on with the New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park?

Like a few other extant relics, this holdover from the New York’s World’s Fair 1964-65 (designed by Philip Johnson and Lev Zetlin) was built to embody the future — two towers straight from the Jetsons and a once-festive coliseum perfect for robot gladiator games.  The fair is long gone, but these structures remain, rusting and completely unused.

What to do with these remarkably weird remnants is the subject of Matthew Silva’s new documentary Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion:


Modern Ruin from Matthew Silva on Vimeo.

You’ll have an opportunity to catch the film later this year.  But for an exclusive peek and more information on the efforts to save and transform the New York State Pavilion, the film’s director Matthew Silva will be in conversation at an event tomorrow night (Wednesday, Sept. 17) with DOCOMOMO (Documentation and Conservations of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement)

Wednesday September 17, 6:30pm
Knoll Showroom
1330 Sixth Ave at 53rd St, 2nd floor
$10 DOCOMOMO members/$20 non-members
Capacity is limited, register here

More information at Silva’s production site, Aquarela Pictures

Top photo courtesy New York Public Library

The religious controversy behind a lonely Roman column just standing around by itself in Flushing Meadows Park

The second oldest manmade object in New York City — outside, that is, not in a museum or private collection — is a solitary little Roman column built in 120 AD for the Temple of Artemis in the ancient city of Jerash.  It once stood among a chorus of ‘whispering columns’, creating an effect in the temple which would magnify the human voice.

So why is it standing all alone in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens?

At right: The column stands alone, with the Unisphere in the background. Courtesy Flickr/Christoslilu

It was a gift of the Kingdom of Jordan for the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65, presented on April 22, 1964, by the young King Hussein to none other than Robert Moses. What did those two have to talk about?

The Jordanian Pavilion at the World’s Fair was a particularly unusual addition to the unofficial (and incomplete) league of nations at the fair. Despite its almost alien appearance — curved and encrusted with gold mosaics — it was one of the most religious buildings there, embodying imagery of both the Christian and Muslim faiths.

Sculptural displays of Stations of the Cross by Antonio Saura decorated the exterior, and bright stained glass windows lit up spectacularly at night.  The Dead Sea Scrolls were displayed alongside a replica of the Dome of the Rock, and visitors could shop at a jewelry bazaar or eat traditional Middle Eastern food in the snack shop.

But despite the many artifacts of great historical provenance, the most controversial thing in this odd building were a set of newly painted murals.

Some Jewish visitors to the pavilion were immediately offended by one particular mural depicting a young refugee expounding in a lengthy text about the Israeli-Palestinian situation at the Jordanian border.  “The strangers, once thought terror’s victims, became terror’s practitioners,” it said, implicating the Israelis (but never mentioning them by name).

“But even now, to protect their gains, illgot, as if the lands were theirs and had the right,” went the mural, “they’re threatening to disturb the Jordan’s course and make the desert bloom with warriors.”

Below:  The controversial Jordanian mural (Courtesy the excellent tribute site NYWF64 )

Organizers at the American-Israeli Pavilion wrote Moses to complain, saying the murals were not in keeping with the fair’s theme of “Peace Through Understanding.”  Moses (pictured below) initially rejected the request, but Mayor Robert Wagner, perhaps in an intentional slight to the former parks commissioner, promised to have the murals removed.

Members of the City Council even proposed a bill forcing the fair to remove the mural.  The Jordanians replied that they would rather close the pavilion than tear down the murals under pressure.  Israeli protesters picketed the pavilion;  at one point, the Jordanian flag was taken and temporarily replaced by the Israeli flag by a protester.

Of course, as a result, the Jordanian Pavilion became hugely popular in the early days of the fair, with thousands of visitors streaming in to see what the fuss was about.

The Isaeli pavilion then unveiled its own mural as a response to the Jordanian mural.  Further lawsuits, even fistfights, ensued over the controversy. In the end, none of the murals were removed.

What got sadly overshadowed in all this, of course, was the Column of Jerash, which could have been made of plaster for all the attention it received.

After the fair ended in 1965, the pavilions were mostly all torn down, but the column stayed behind, making the park its home for several decades now.  Today you can find it near the Unisphere next to a plaque which reads:

THIS COLUMN WAS PRESENTED TO/ THE NEW YORK WORLDS FAIR AND THE CITY OF NEW YORK BY/ HIS MAJESTY KING HUSSEIN / OF THE HASHEMITE KINGDOM OF JORDAN/ ON THE OCCASION / OF JORDAN’S PARTICIPATION IN THE FAIR./ THE COLUMN WAS RECEIVED BY THE HONORABLE ROBERT MOSES, PRESIDENT, / NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR 1964-1965 CORPORATION./ THIS IS ONE OF MANY COLUMNS IN A TEMPLE ERECTED BY THE ROMANS/IN 120 A.D./ THAT STOOD IN THE ROMAN CITY OF JERASH, JORDAN./ THE COLUMNS ARE KNOWN AS THE WHISPERING COLUMNS OF JERASH.

——————————

Okay, so that’s the second oldest large manmade object in New York City?  What’s the oldest?

That’s the subject of our new podcast tomorrow so stay tuned!

George Washington’s inauguration and the 1939 World’s Fair

James Earle Fraser’s colossal Washington statue out in Queens. (NYPL)

Tomorrow (April 30th) is the 225th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington, sworn in at Federal Hall as the first President of the United States.  It is also the 75th anniversary of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  That was not an accident.

The monumental events of America’s founding would be immortalized by the fair in some rather unusual ways 150 years later.  Both April 30th events were occasions of great patriotic ceremony (and both even slightly kitschy) in their own ways.

April 1789
 It took George seven entire days to get to New York from his home in Mount Vernon, as his procession was met every step of the way with throngs of patriotic crowds and flamboyant celebratory displays.

Washington’s vice president John Adams had already arrived in New York, on April 21st.  The building which greeted him, the former City Hall building on Wall Street, had been the center of city’s government since 1699, when the British used materials from the city’s demolished north defense wall to construct it.

The heavily remodeled building which now stood in its place, later to be called Federal Hall, was designed by successful city contractor and former Continental Army engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant.  According to author David McCullough, “it was the first building in America designed to exalt the national spirit, in what would come to be known as the Federal style.” (Sadly, this building was ripped down in 1812; the ‘Federal Hall’ which stands in the same spot today was built as a customs house in 1842.)

L’Enfant would later work on the creation of Washington DC out of Maryland swampland.  He would ultimately be fired from that project — by George Washington.

George finally arrived in New York two days after Adams, April 23, via a barge from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was met at the Wall Street pier by the current mayor of New York James Duane and the state’s governor George Clinton.

From there, he was taken to his new home on Cherry Street (long demolished, around near the Brooklyn Bridge anchorage today) and spent the day greeting dozens of well-wishers.  That night, Governor Clinton hosted an elaborate dinner in his honor; the pomp and extravagance by this time were probably getting tiresome to the stately Virginian farmer.

Meanwhile Adams spent the week at Federal Hall in Senate chambers, hashing out such things we take for granted — such as how to even address the new president — until at last they were ready for the ceremony to begin, on April 30.

According to Ron Chernow, “Washington rose early, sprinkled powder in his hair, and prepared for his great day.”  Like some detail from a fairy tale, Washington left his Cherry Street home at noon in a yellow carriage driven by white horses, legions of soldiers marching proudly behind him.

The streets of Manhattan were clogged with people, over ten thousand cramming Broad and Wall streets, as far as the eye could see both ways.  Sitting on the balcony of his own home on Wall Street was Washington’s closest confidante Alexander Hamilton, certainly reveling in the moment.

After greeting the Congress, Adams led Washington to the second floor balcony along with Robert Livingston, the Chancellor of New York (the highest judicial office in the state), who held out a bible owned by the St. John’s Lodge Freemasons and delivered the oath of office, probably not loud enough for anybody in the street to actually hear.

Washington, even less audibly than Livingston, swore to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  He then possibly threw in a ‘so help me God’ for good measure (although there are many doubts that this occurred).

New Yorkers went crazy then, firing cannons, screaming and waving flags, playing music and dancing in the streets.  After returning inside to address the new Congress — by this time with tears in his eyes — Washington and his entourage went up Broadway to receive on invocation at St. Paul’s Church, the scrappy survivor of the great fire the destroyed much of the city in 1776.  Washington would be a regular here for his entire stay in New York; the pew where he planted himself for two years is still on display there (illustrated above).

Martha Washington would not arrive in town for another month, but that didn’t stop the parties.  The official inauguration ball took place a week later, on May 7th, at the Assembly Rooms at 115 Broadway.

Although a bit stiff and silent, George was still popular with the ladies and danced “two cotillions and a minuet,” often seen with Alexander Hamilton’s young bride Eliza. When Martha arrived on May 17, landing at Peck Slip, she was greeted with similarly grand fanfare, and yet another ball was held in her honor.

April 1939
One hundred and fifty years later, the 1939 World’s Fair opened in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the second largest American fair up to that time (only St. Louis’ 1904 event was larger).

This celebration of human advancement — as demonstrated through miles of utopian kitsch and strikingly bizarre architecture — was a reason for Robert Moses to turn the unsightly Corona Ash Dumps into a Queens super-park.  The fair was advertisement as entertainment, with hundreds of modern gadgets displayed as novelties and staples of the future.

But the celebration was planned with the past in mind as well.  It opened on April 30, 1939, coinciding with another great day in New York City history — Washington’s inauguration.  That’s how important the city thought the opening of the fair was.  (Life Magazine was a little more cynical; in 1939, they refer to Washington as “the excuse” for the fair.  The purpose, of course, was profits.)

A 61-foot-tall statue of Washington by James Earle Fraser stood mightily over the fair’s Constitution Mall, peering perhaps quizzically at Paul Manship’s massive sundial sculpture.  A cluster of buildings called the Court of States recalled the Colonial architecture of Washington’s day.  Even Federal Hall was recreated.

Below: The World’s Fair presented a recreation of Washington’s inauguration, except with lots of flag dancing. (NYPL)

A replica of Mount Vernon (sort of) called Washington Hall was the pet project of a New Yorker with presidential ties.

According to the New Yorker, “Mr. Messmore Kendall, is responsible for the Hall.  Mr. Kendall, president of Sons of the American Revolution and owner of the Capitol Theatre, [developed] plans for erecting, entirely at his own expense, a $28,000 building to house a collection of Washington relics. Before the Fair closes, he expects the whole thing will have cost him more than $50,000. He has given more than money to the project; he has given the family cook, so that whenever he wants a home-cooked meal, he has to go all the hell out to Flushing.”

The Hall received a host of reenactors who had made their way up from Mount Vernon in emulation of Washington’s own footsteps.  On May 6th, a child named Robert E, Lee Williamson opened Washington Hall in a grand ceremony, bringing “three consecutive weeks of neo-Federal quaintness to a close.” [source]

The president also sits (sometimes awkwardly) upon a variety of World’s Fair merchandise.  Light shows and fireworks unheard of in Washington’s time were dedicated in his honor throughout the fair.  He even starred in a popular musical pageant at the fair called American Jubilee, with books and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. 

It was another great president who kicked off the fair 75 years ago.  With 200,000 people in attendance, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave an opening speech extolling the virtues of American ingenuity as he became the first president to be broadcast to television audiences.  Few had televisions in their homes at the time.  But NBC founder David Sarnoff helpfully scattered a few dozen of them throughout the city in a clever publicity stunt.

Roosevelt starts off his speech referencing Washington. “[T]here have been preserved for us many generations later, accounts of his taking of the oath of office on April thirtieth on the balcony of the old Federal Hall. ….. And so we, in New York, have a very personal connection with that thirtieth of April, one hundred and fifty years ago.” [Read the whole speech here.]

Defined by the odd Trylon and Perisphere buildings, the fair seems like something truly dreamlike.  The land where the fair once stood now contains the ruins of a New York’s other World’s Fair, the event from 1964-65.

For this article, I’ve re-purposed a couple pieces of writing I did on these events a few years ago.  The original pieces can be found here and here.

Assorted mishaps from the 1964 New York World’s Fair — in its first month and before it even opened

Certainly Robert Moses expected there to be a few little problems to arise at the opening of the 1964 World’s Fair on April 22, 1964.  And for the most part, the most popular attractions launched without a hitch.  But a host of bad press on opening day and a litter of minor issues created a sense of unease among some organizers.

The fair was already a controversial venture by Moses — unsanctioned by the official World’s Fair organizers and sold wholesale to a bevy of corporations as a way to fund the hugely expensive endeavor.  Moses’ own reputation was on the wane by 1964; the fair would further tarnish it.  Whatever enthusiasm New Yorkers had for the fair in 1964 evaporated with its completion in the fall of 1965, with reports of ludicrous financial mismanagement and a gradual indifference by fair-goers to its line-up of generally un-amusing amusements.

So these first few mishaps from the months before and after opening, in retrospect, seem to be a harbinger for the greater fiascoes which followed.  Money issues, faulty machinery, injuries, lack of planning — welcome to the World’s Fair of 1964!

1) The World of Food never opens
With hundreds of new temporary structures going up, you wouldn’t think that a single building lagging behind would be much of an issue.  But the prominently placed World of Food  — standing 75 feet from the fair’s entrance — was one of the largest pavilions on the fair, and little work had been done on it since ground-breaking in January.

The building was to celebrate cooking and gardening, with weekly festivals devoted to a particular food (shrimp, apples), a rooftop ‘edible garden’ and a model kitchen with the most innovative home appliances.  A teen center on the ground floor would host cook-outs and clam-bakes with appearances by the hottest young stars of film and television.

It would have, that is, except the organizers ran out of money, and a large gaping construction site sat like an open sore marring the fairgrounds.  Moses and fair organizers wanted to level the site immediately, fighting it out in court with the World of Food organizers.  Finally, two weeks before the opening, the uncompleted venue was finally torn down.

But there was no time to fill the lot, so on opening day, an odd gap in an otherwise tightly organized grounds greeted visitors.  Gift shops sold World of Food souvenirs anyway.  Meanwhile, the fair paid thousands of dollars to store the unused construction materials off site.  [More information at Bill Young’s excellent World’s Fair site. Image above is also from there.]

2) Ceramic catastrophe
The most spectacular displays were often at the pavilions hosted by foreign countries.  The Pieta at the Vatican Pavilion, for instance, would become one of the most popular attractions.  The organizers from Spain, however, would have to scramble when they opened crates containing a 50-foot ceramic relief by Antonio Cumella called ‘Homage to Gaudi,” only to discover that much of it had been crushed in transport.

Welders furiously labored to repair the work before the fair opened.  Some semblance of the work was eventually displayed.

Courtesy New York Daily News

3) Rain on Opening Day
The April 22nd opening was to be one of the greatest events in New York City history, and in volume, it certainly was.  Ten of thousands clogged the highways in one of New York’s ugliest traffic days. Over 90,000 made it to the fairgrounds to witness opening ceremonies that included a speech by president Lyndon B. Johnson, president for only a few months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

But fair organized had planned for 250,000 attendees.  Keeping people away was the “November-like weather,” torrential morning rain and a chilly, cloudy afternoon.  The New York Times reported:  “The World’s Fair opened yesterday morning with a parade that had everything. But mostly it had rain, and 4,000 sodden marchers outnumbered the hundreds of sodden bystanders.”

4) Protesters and arrests
President Johnson and fair organizers were met with picketers and sit-ins, mostly civil rights organizers.  They managed to heckle Johnson through his entire speech at the Federal Pavilion and sit in at several fair venues.  In particular, protesters camped out in shrubbery outside the pavilion and had to be forcibly removed.  “It was dreadful, dreadful,” said one state official.

By the end of the day, over 300 people had been arrested by police.  What had particularly incensed protesters was a variety show at the fair called “America, Be Seated,” a “minstrel-style” show that meant to turn the derogatory stereotypes of old into something fun and jazzy for the 1960s.  “I think we’ll start a whole new wave of minstrel shows,” hoped producer Michael Todd Jr, (stepson of Elizabeth Taylor), promising no “burnt cork” and that every performer in the integrated cast would be wearing “his own face.”

It was still deemed too offensive for many and quickly closed within two days, raking in a grand total of $300.

Below: From the New York Times, April 23, 1964

5) City locked down
If you weren’t at the fair, you were probably cursing it out.  A planned “stall-in” by demonstrators to stop traffic throughout the city failed to materialize, but the city planned for it anyway, created a veritable police state that day.  “Police cars and tow trucks waited sometimes as close as every half mile along Grand Central Parkway.”

This tension led to a near-disaster at one subway station, when four protesters and three police officers were injured “when a crowd tried to stop one morning subway train.” [source]

6) No hospital
Five days after opening, seven fair goers were injured inside fair transportation sponsored by Greyhound Bus Lines. One of these “Glide-a-Ride” vehicles hit one of the eleven General Foods arches (pictured above), causing minor injuries.

But there was no hospital facility on the fairgrounds — “[T]he hospital was expected to open late next month” — so the injured were treated at the employee’s dispensary and advised to see their own doctors at once. [source]

Leonidoff’s Wonder World. Pic courtesy Randy Treadway at World Fair Community. There are many more rare photos of this event there.)

7) Water and Ice Catastrophes
Two big-name entertainments at the fair were plagued with constant accidents and delays before they opened.  Leon Leonidoff, famed producer at Radio City Music Hall, watched as his “Leonidoff’s Wonder World” befell perpetual mishaps, mostly associated with a faulty mechanical swimming pool.  The show was hugely expensive and not a big draw (see photo above).  It closed within two months.

Meanwhile, Olympic champion Dick Button was having similar issues over at Dick Button’s Ice-Travaganza.  His woes involved transportation costs and salaries associated with his mostly European cast.  This show, too, was considered a failure, closing a few weeks after its opening opening.

However it did have a skating chimpanzee in a dress, so that’s something to celebrate.

8) Elephant Attack
Six days after the fair opened, a trainer was “stepped on” by a chained elephant named Anna Mae.  Again, as no fair hospital had been opened, the trainer was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital.

You can imagine what the conditions for this poor animal were probably like.  The animal, known for “her erratic temperament,” was chained to two other elephants at the time of the attack.

Above: the Ford Pavilion (NYPL)

9) Ford Pavilion Smoked Out
Nine days after it opened, a transformer at the Ford Pavilion — featuring Walt Disney’s Magic Skyway — caught fire, issuing smoke into the attraction and causing 2,000 people to be evacuated.  The conveyor belt Skyway was also prone in its early days to malfunctions, leaving fair-goers trapped in late-model Ford vehicles in front of caveman and space-age dioramas. [source]

10) The World’s Fair Bus “Riot”
May 16 was a day of record attendance at the fair, so it should be assumed that it was also a day of high tensions and long lines.  People were especially impatient that evening while waiting to board shuttles back to the parking lot.

“A shoving, yelling crowd of 15,000 persons went into near panic,” creating four blocks of mayhem as people attempted to squeeze into an inadequete number of vehicles.  A “riot call” was made on the fairgrounds, with additional police and several ambulances called to treat minor injuries and several women who had fainted.

“They acted like animals,” commented one bus inspector. Said another, who had been grabbed and lifted by his tie:  “If we lived through [Saturday] night, we can live through anything.” [source]

Top image courtesy Flickr Marsmett Tallahassee

African lions and dinosaurs, musical plastics and electricity: The sights and sounds of the 1964-65 World’s Fair

The World’s Fair of 1964-65 opened fifty years ago today!  We visited this unusual New York mega-event on the podcast a few years ago.  Give this show a listen to get a good introduction to our city’s strangest celebration of the future.  You can listen to it here or download it from the Bowery Boys Archive:

With its dozens of special pavilions, with its dazzling displays of technology and innovations, the World’s Fair of 1964-65 was an especially filmic event, with corporations making canned industrial films to promote their participation in the event.  Here’s a few notable (and often cheesy) examples:

Start with this introductory video, reported by Lowell Thomas, best known as the man who made Lawrence of Arabia famous. He was loosely depicted in the Oscar-winning from a couple years before.

This film on the Florida Pavilion could have been taken from an episode of Leave It To Beaver. “In this film, viewers learn about the dolphins that performed at the New York World’s Fair.”

 

The Sinclair Oil Corporation created its own Jurassic Park, Sinclair’s Dinoland.  After all, it was an oil company! Get it?  This attraction also had some of the most popular souvenirs.

Sinclair could fuel your Ford to get to the fair. So why not celebration the Ford Motor Company at its automobile fantasia — the Ford Motor Skyway, designed by Walt Disney!

 

For a continental view of the park, British Pathe made this amusing promotional documentary:

But this film is my absolute favorite, most likely meant for American classrooms — a celebration of the creation of the Unisphere!   It features Robert Moses, the Crystal Palace, the Eiffel Tower and an amazingly weird mod spider sculpture.

 

Here’s a good time, toe-tapping tribute to plastics, in a musical tribute by DuPont. “The Wonderful World Of Chemistry” was staged at the DuPont Pavilion 48 times a day.

Over at the Johnson Wax Pavilion, you would have experienced this unusual documentary short — To Be Alive, directed by Francis Thompson and Alexandr Hackenschmied (known as the cinematographer of Maya Deren’s Meshes in the Afternoon).  The following  year, the film was the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short!



Eastman Kodak also had a pavilion and released this film about how to take the best pictures at the World’s Fair.  Of course, today, this looks like the most Instagrammed film in history:

New York created a special “Subway Special” to get from Manhattan to the World’s Fair.   This became today’s 7 train and still one of the easiest ways to get out to Flushing-Meadows.  It also comes with a catchy tune!

And finally, here’s a selection of beautiful shots from Life Magazine, most taken in April 1964 in promotion for the fair:

The United States Pavilion featured a 15-minute film-ride on American history that culminated in its infamous Hall of Presidents (photographed by George Silk):

In another George Silk photograph, Masai tribesmen dance at the African Pavilion which featured caged lions, a museum of African artifacts, and a “tree-house restaurant” featuring the decidedly unauthentic “African Punch.”

Several structures at night, including the Tower of Light and Walt Disney’s Progressland Pavilion (the domed building at top) for General Electric, “showing the role of electricity in the progress of man.” [Here’s the brochure.]

The fiberglass tent atop the New York State Pavilion‘s Tent of Tomorrow, the framework of which still stands like a ruin out in Flushing-Meadows. (Life/George Silk)